Ask any New Yorker what they think of the current fleet of taxis that roam the streets of the city and they'll probably respond: "Bring back the Checker!" However, it looks as if the iconic Checker Marathon won't be displacing the current fleet of horrible Ford (F) Crown Vics. Instead, the new New York taxi will be something called the Nissan NV200.
Ford is happy for Nissan
You can't blame Ford for not being able to replace the roomy, stylish Checker. When it was phased out in the 1980s, far more svelte full-size sedans from the consumer market were all that it had.
However, Checker-love (the thing had jump seats in the back, for crying out loud!) led NYC to audition far more capacious vehicles. In the running was something called the Ford Transit Connect (view its unloveliness here), the aforementioned Nissan, and a dark horse from Turkey that offered excellent access for handicapped passengers.
I checked with Ford to get its reaction, which was dignified in the context of what I imagine was disappointment that NYC didn't go with an American brand that's on a roll. Spokesperson Said Deep was kind enough to BlackBerry me a swift comment:
First, Ford is proud to have been a finalist for New York City's Taxi of Tomorrow. As the nation's leading taxi provider, we will continue to work with the city of New York and its taxi operators on solutions for today and tomorrow. In fact, we look forward to working with the city of New York on approving today's Ford Transit Connect Taxi for immediate service.Function matters
The Ford Transit Connect Taxi already is on the road in several other U.S. cities -- including Boston, Chicago and Las Vegas -â€" and it is proving to be very well-suited to the needs of both drivers and passengers.
The NYC Taxi finalists shared some DNA: They're multipurpose van-like rides that solve the Crown Vic's problem of a too-snug back seat and a trunk that, while large, is often stocked with stuff that competes for space with luggage.
They also get better gas mileage that the Crown Vic and can accommodate more than three people comfortably, although some New Yorkers may miss the snug, canoodle-inducing vibe that the Crown Vic's environs promoted.
What they lack is the panache of the only taxi to capture as many hearts and minds as the Checker: the legendary London black cab, still in production.
Does this mean the Checker isn't coming back?
I have to admit that although I'm glad to see an obviously superior taxi design finally make it to the Big Apple -- with the added promise of providing electric cabbing in the years to come -- I think NYC blew a great chance to revive the Checker.
Okay, so the U.S. auto industry isn't exactly in the best shape right now to create a nostalgia play. Still, the Nissan taxi contract has been reported at $1 billion. Put a hybrid drivetrain -- or better yet, and electric motor -- in there and you've got Nirvana with an "off duty" sign. Plus, the man of the street wants his Checker back. This is from AP (via CBS News):
Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said he believed the vehicles could become as beloved as the Checker cabs of yesteryear.Would Don Draper hail one of these things?
"Not a week goes by when somebody doesn't say to me, 'Why can't you bring back the Checker?"' he said. "The cars that are on the road today just have not generated the same type of affection and passenger loyalty."
The NV200 taxi probably expresses what New York wants to be: modern, eco-friendly, versatile -- and that's all good. But c'mon! This is the City that Never Sleeps! It's cabs probably shouldn't look so...soccer mom-ish? Can you imagine Don Draper flipping aside his Lucky Strike, unbuttoning his jacket, and easing his latest lady friend into the back seat of... a van?
Thank goodness for the NV200. But bring back the Checker!